How Tim Cook and Kushner Saved Apple Billions: 2 of 3 (Cook Threads the Needle)


Mr. Cook serves as an adviser to the administration’s workforce policy board, a harder task than you think.

Mr. Trump refers to the Apple CEO as a friend and lauds his business chops. He has called Mr. Cook to wish him a Happy Thanksgiving.

“He’s a great executive,” Mr. Trump said recently. “Others go out and hire very expensive consultants. Tim Cook calls Donald Trump directly.”

Early this year, Mr. Cook joined the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board led by Ivanka Trump. The group, which includes the CEOs of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Siemens USA, aims to help U.S. employers and the government better train workers.

Mr. Cook is one of the few executives, in a world so polarized by politics and the President in particular, who has managed to both support and challenge the president’s agenda in a way that has kept him on terms well enough to communicate with Trump directly while avoiding any public backlash from either employees or customers. This is no smalll task, Under Armour Inc. ’s Kevin Plank, Tesla Inc. ’s Elon Musk and Uber Technologies Inc. ’s Travis Kalanick resigned from presidential advisory councils over disagreements with the administration. A similar resignation by Merck & Co. CEO Kenneth Frazier, who publicly criticized the president’s handling of violence in Charlottesville, Va., led Mr. Trump to unleash a barrage of tweets castigating the drugmaker for high prices.

“There are only a handful [of executives] who have been able to thread the needle,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale University management professor. “This is a newfound capability for Apple. Steve Jobs didn’t have influence in Washington, and Tim Cook has offered it.”

Mr. Cook’s personal diplomacy stands out among tech giants. Apple’s $18 million in lobbying since 2017 is half of what either Inc. or Google’s Alphabet Inc. have spent. Mr. Cook developed a reltionship with Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, giving him a direct line to the White House.

Nearly 97% of Apple employee donations to candidates in the 2018 midterm elections went to Democrats. Yet employees haven’t publicly criticized Mr. Cook for engaging with the president. Mr. Cook has challenged the president on some social issues. His personal lobbying benefited the company on the tariff issue, and tax changes that led to employee bonuses.

At a March meeting, President Trump introduced Mr. Cook as “Tim Apple”. Mr. Cook responded by updating his name on Twitter to use the Apple logo in place of his last name. Was it an inside joke between the two leaders or a jab at the president.

“There are a lot of folks in Silicon Valley who reek of disdainfulness for politics,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), who regularly meets with Mr. Cook. “They often presume they’re much smarter than anyone in policy…Tim doesn’t have that approach. He actually listens.”

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